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The Impostor
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International Booker Prize > 2018 MBI Longlist: The Impostor

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message 1: by Hugh (last edited Mar 13, 2018 03:32AM) (new)

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3164 comments Mod
The Impostor (MacLehose Press Editions Book 9) by Javier Cercas Javier Cercas (Spain), Frank Wynne, The Impostor (MacLehose Press)


message 2: by Paul (last edited Mar 15, 2018 11:10PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8756 comments As with Munoz Molina this will be my 5th Javier Cercas as well - actually strictly 6th since one book was two novellas.

My favourite to date has been The Anatomy of a Moment: Thirty-Five Minutes in History and Imagination, and of course his classic Soldados de Salamina. The Speed of Light was also very good although The Tenant And The Motive were both rather lesser works.


message 3: by Val (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val | 1016 comments I haven't read him before, but I like this one, so might in the future.


Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8756 comments Very impressed with this although I suspect it's circular, analytical nature, or its rather odd nature as a novel-without-fiction, a rigorously true story, devoid of the slightest trace of invention or imagination won't be for everyone.

My review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

Strong recommended for fans of The Anatomy of a Moment: Thirty-Five Minutes in History and Imagination or of fellow Javier, Javier Marías - and vice versa, if you like this you should check out those.

A possible winner - and rather renders the presence of Like a Fading Shadow on the longlist a little redundant as it stochastically dominates it.


Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8756 comments Tony of if the Messenger's Booker blog, and former long-standing member of the Shadow Jury, is no great fan of this.

https://messybooker.wordpress.com/201...

Some of his criticisms I can understand but would disagree with - I love the Marias-like deliberate repetition.

But he points out a shocking translation error - the 'impostor' was actually unmasked on the 60th anniversary of the camp where he claimed to have been a prisoner, in 2005. But in the English translation this becomes the 70th! Which if it was just buried away on page 129 would perhaps be forgivable - but it's part of the publicity blurb for the book.

see e.g.
https://www.quercusbooks.co.uk/books/...


message 6: by Neil (last edited Apr 05, 2018 12:31PM) (new) - added it

Neil | 1885 comments I haven’t got as far as the translation error yet, but what is bothering me is the grammar, especially the strange use of colons and semi-colons. Although it could just be my lack of understanding.

“For many years, he claimed he did: insistently; he claimed as much to me...”

Followed, on the next page, by a sentence with two colons!


message 7: by Paul (last edited Apr 06, 2018 02:18AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8756 comments That is odd I agree!

Although any translation errors are less egregious than those the same translator made in his other longlisted book, where the error was to agree to translate it in the first place and hence inflict it on English speakers.


message 8: by Neil (new) - added it

Neil | 1885 comments I may have to DNF this one because the punctuation is driving me crazy!

“First and foremost because it presents two at least two problems; two interrelated problems”.

A semicolon should link two independent clauses i.e. two phrases that would work as standalone sentences. “Two interrelated problems” is not a sentence.

There are simply too many colons and semicolons and too many of them are in the wrong places!


message 9: by Neil (new) - added it

Neil | 1885 comments I don't do this very often (in fact, only once before for books registered on GR), but I've put this to one side at 47%. If I was interested in the story, I might be able to forgive the appalling punctuation. As it is, I am only reading each sentence so that I can look at the end of it to see if it is a colon or a semicolon. Life is too short.


message 10: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8756 comments Life is: too short; you mean;:


message 11: by Neil (new) - added it

Neil | 1885 comments Someone has commented on my review that this may be a translation issue because Spanish is littered with what to English eyes look like random semicolons. I can’t comment as I don’t know Spanish, but I was wondering if it might be something like that.


message 12: by Ctb (new)

Ctb | 197 comments Neil wrote: "I haven’t got as far as the translation error yet, but what is bothering me is the grammar, especially the strange use of colons and semi-colons. Although it could just be my lack of understanding...."

I have the same complaints about Vernon Subutex (more than a page of complaints by page 59 of the book at which point I quit marking them), but I was afraid to post them on that thread as I thought some might view that as trivial.


message 13: by Neil (last edited Apr 07, 2018 05:21AM) (new) - added it

Neil | 1885 comments Hah! That just goes to show that it is easy to ignore things if you are liking the book. I really liked Subutex and, probably consequently, did not notice grammar/punctuation issues.

However, it is interesting to note that both books are translated by the same person.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 5395 comments I enjoyed the punctuation in Vernon Subutex, it was the sections between it I struggled with.


message 15: by Ctb (new)

Ctb | 197 comments Neil wrote: "However, it is interesting to note that both books are translated by the same person."

Ah, I didn't notice. The blame tilts.


message 16: by Ctb (new)

Ctb | 197 comments Gumble's Yard wrote: "I enjoyed the punctuation in Vernon Subutex, it was the sections between it I struggled with."

I'm still laughing.


message 17: by Val (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val | 1016 comments Daughter who speaks Spanish wondered if it might be a keyboard or printing problem. (Spanish is not usually littered with random colons and semicolons, but the accents are not always rendered correctly.)


message 18: by Paul (last edited Apr 22, 2018 12:48PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8756 comments Google books has the first pages in Spanish https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=G...

The punctuation in the English - including a sentence with one colon and two semi colons - follows the Spanish very faithfully.

For example in Spanish the sentence that Wynne renders as follows and Neil mentioned above:

“First and foremost because it presents at least two problems; two interrelated problems.”

In the original says

"De entrada porque plantea por lo menos dos problemas; dos problemas relacionados entre si."

Over to any Spanish speakers (Val's daughter?) on whether a semi colon is natural here in Spanish.


message 19: by Val (last edited Apr 22, 2018 01:08PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val | 1016 comments She is out at the moment, but I will ask her when she gets in. If she doesn't know she will ask one of her Spanish friends. (Even I know enough to confirm that the second part is not a full sentence.)


message 20: by Neil (new) - added it

Neil | 1885 comments Two related comments from me.

Firstly, a semicolon links two independent clauses I.e. both should form sentences on their own but are linked by a semicolon because they are related. This example doesn’t do that as the second clause could not be a sentence.

Secondly, and a genuine question rather than a pedantic point, what is the aim in translation? Is it to faithfully represent the original language or is it to produce something excellent in the target language? I think it is the second, but this is taking the first approach.


message 21: by Val (last edited Apr 22, 2018 09:34PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val | 1016 comments I tend to agree with Neil's second point, although the pedantic question has now been sent to a Spanish lady in Edinburgh to answer (daughter says her Spanish is not formal enough).

The answer:
Hi!. I'm probably not the best person to ask, as I last studied formal language and literature in high school. It's hard to tell without further context, but from what you´ve included in the post both phrases seem identical to me. I don't think that semi-colons are as common in written Spanish as they are in English, but again that´s just my opinion as I'm not a linguist!. I don't see how that phrase could have been translated any better/differently.

My conclusion is that it is a stylistic quirk by the author, faithfully translated. It possibly looks stranger in English than in the original Spanish.


message 22: by WndyJW (last edited Apr 22, 2018 08:16PM) (new)

WndyJW | 4869 comments I just read an earlier book by a writer I really like and found his frequent periods to make a point. To be dramatic. To sound contemplative yet declarative distracting. Disruptive. Awkwardly disruptive.

It seemed few of the sentences in the first chapter or two were longer than 5 words and it was maddening, so I simply ignored the punctuation and read it as I thought it should sound. Fortunately, he hit a nice flow and stopped that as the book went on.

I guess one would have to really love the book to be able to ignore things like that.


message 23: by Val (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val | 1016 comments Sometimes that sort of thing works, as in A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing, although even there I think she could have used the technique sparingly to greater effect.


message 24: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8756 comments Neil wrote: "Secondly, and a genuine question rather than a pedantic point, what is the aim in translation? Is it to faithfully represent the original language or is it to produce something excellent in the target language? I think it is the second, but this is taking the first approach. ."

Good question. Ultimately I think the 2nd and I don't think fidelity is necessary, or even completely possible, although if it can be done without causing issues in the host language, then it should be. But overruling an author on stylistic grounds, when it isn't a host-vs-receipient language issue, is I think dangerous ground for a translator (one ends up in the very treacherous territory of deleting passages that are boring in the translator's view - see e,g, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle). If you listen to the podcast from the Spectator, Wynne is definitely not a fan of the 'improving because I am a better writer than the author' approach.

Here it appears not to be a Spanish-English issue and so Wynne I think has made the right choice not to 'correct' the author's punctuation. In the same way he chose not to rewrite Despentes book in decent prose (which again he hints at in the podcast).

Fortunately as a result with the Impostor, for me he has both faithfully represented the original language and produced something excellent in the target language. And you would say feel the same about Vernon S.


message 25: by Neil (new) - added it

Neil | 1885 comments Yes - we have to agree to disagree. And I don't mind that. As you know, I am not normally averse to books that "break the rules", but there was something about this one that really wound me up. As Subutex did with you. You hated Subutex for reasons I understand but don't agree with. I couldn't finish this because I consider the repeated (over-)use of punctuation marks too aggravating, whereas you didn't.

C'est la vie.


message 26: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8756 comments We need a new thread - things that immediately lose a book at least one star, and possibly more.

For me it is - gratuitous swearing, drug use, humour (Vernon loses three marks before it starts so 2 was the best it could have hoped for) and banker bashing.

For you - punctuation, incorrect naming of bird species and environmental destruction (butterfly cruelty for example)?


message 27: by Neil (new) - added it

Neil | 1885 comments That could be fun!

I don't mind incorrect punctuation a lot of the time - look at some of the more "experimental" books I have read and rated highly. But I guess I am sensitive to it when it is over done. My question about translation is really about whether that over-use of semicolons is natural in Spanish and should have been removed as part of the process of translating into "good" English.

But yes, people who put "seagull" in the title of their book or publishers who put a rook on the cover of a book that features a crow as one of its main characters (and doesn't have a rook in it) etc.. That annoys me!


message 28: by WndyJW (new)

WndyJW | 4869 comments I probably don’t need to mention Saramago’s elimination of quotation marks as the perfect example of a broken rule having a desired effect, but I never pass on a chance to mention Saramago.


message 29: by Val (last edited Apr 24, 2018 09:01AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val | 1016 comments Neil, you may be pleased to know that Google translates Chekov's Чайка as Gull (although it gives the alternatives seagull, mew and sea mew).


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